The tragedy at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek last Sunday has shocked the entire 25 million strong Sikh community around the globe. Seven innocent people have lost their lives. One of the victims – a priest – had just received his green card and arrived with his family at the temple only four days ago. Our heartfelt sympathies go to the families of the victims. May their souls rest in peace. We pray for the fast recovery of the injured.
The reaction to this tragedy has been overwhelming. Moral, emotional and financial support to the victims and their families as well as the Oak Creek Sikh Temple have poured in from around the globe. These offers are not only from the Sikh community but also from non-Sikhs. The American authorities have been quick in their response to this ghastly crime. The Obama Administration and the American public have been quick to stand in solidarity with the Sikh community.
Among others, two individuals stand out as heroes in this tragic saga. Lieutenant Brian Murphy, who was seriously injured by the gunman, didn’t care about his own well-being and safety. Instead, he waved his fellow police officers to go inside the gurdwara and deal with the gunman rather than worrying about him. Gurdwara founder and president, Satwant Singh Kaleka, 65, has made every Sikh proud with his selfless sacrifice. Without fearing for his own life, he held on to the gunman for critical two minutes that may have saved the lives of many in the gurdwara, including that of his wife.
This senseless act of violence has raised a number of questions. Why would this former soldier with a twisted mind pick the place of worship of a very peaceful, peace- loving, hardworking and generous community to commit such an abhorrent act of violence? What prompted him to commit this horrific crime? This, coming right on the heals of the Colorado movie theatre tragedy in the US, has raised even more questions for American society in general and the authorities in particular.
Reports says that since 9/11 there have been more than 700 cases of hate crime against the Sikhs. The tragedy at Oak Creek has brought to the forefront a number of issues. First and foremost is the need for Americans to learn more about Sikhs and Sikhism. This relatively young religion is often confused with Islam. Consequently, individually and collectively, the Sikhs need to reach out to their non-Sikh fellows. Each member of the Sikh community needs to become its ambassador and explain to others as to what this religion stands for. In post 9/11 America, this approach has taken upon added significance. Both Sikh and non-Sikh communities need to work togather in creating more awareness about Sikhism. At the same time they need to work togather in combating hatred and racism at every level.
The response by the American authorities – all the way from President Barack Obama to the governor of Wisconsin and law enforcement agencies – has just been amazing. Even the attorney general of the United States of America, Eric Holder, took the time out to join the mourners in Oak Creek on Friday. Similarly, civil rights leader Jessie Jackson was kind enough to stand in solidarity with the Sikh community. Obama’s phone call to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to convey Americans’ condolences was a commendable gesture. Similarly, the presence of the American Ambassador to India at Bangla Sahib Gurdwara immediately after this tragedy was an excellent example of America showing its solidarity with Sikhs in particular and the people of India in general.
Certainly, this tragic event has devastated a lot of families who have lost their loved ones. This is something they will never forget. However, at the same time, it has created an atmosphere where people have come to-gather like never before in condemning violence, racism and hatred. It has shown that the best way to combat these evils is through solidarity, compassion and love. Let’s hope that tragedies like these will never happen again. This will be the best tribute that we can pay to the innocent victims of this tragedy.
(Based in Richmond, British Columbia, Balwant Sanghera is a retired school psychologist and community activist)